These days it isn’t too difficult to see what might have tempted men (and some women) of centuries past to succumb to the lure of the pirate life. Ahhh, the freedom and salty air of the open seas, the chests of gold coins and precious gems, the ruffled shirts and earrings…well you get the idea.
Who cares that buccaneers were once the scourge of the 18th century, we love pirates. We name sports teams after them; on Halloween we don patches and bandanas and stuff pistols and cutlasses in our our belts; at Disneyworld we Fastpass the legendary ride; and we look forward to the next movie with Johnny Depp. We even promote silliness such as Talk Like a Pirate Day.
As it happens, pirates of yore offer tips we can use to liven up our own day-to-day lives. Here then, are the steps you can take to add a little piracy to your own life, even at the office.
1. Dream big. Pirates were people who looked to the promise of the horizon. They defied a status quo that favored the upper class, the rich, the corrupt, and the well-connected. As buccaneers they eschewed the hopeless lot of the masses, one that accepted a pittance in exchange for harsh working conditions at sea and brutal treatment by their superiors.
Becoming a pirate meant charting your own course and breaking free of what society said you were meant to be, and becoming something else. It meant being OK without a lifeline. Your first step as a would-be pirate is to not only desire a better life than swabbing decks—but to be willing to do something about it.
2. Let your freak flag fly. American satirist H.L. Mencken wrote, “Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.” He meant we long for the call to adventure and nothing says that like a Jolly Roger.
You probably dutifully unfurl “Old Glory” on July 4th and Memorial Day, but what about the rest of the year? Mix it up a bit on that flagpole by getting your own pirate flag (try here or here) and let your neighbors know you are a pirate at heart all year round.
Give the flag a meaning to your friends and family, that something fun is about to happen. Plus, who knows, maybe the burglar will think twice.
3. Know your rules and live by them. From the fictional guidelines of Pirates of the Caribbean to the real-life Articles of Bartholomew Roberts pirates did indeed “keep to the code.” A successful pirate ship was a well-run operation.
They had agreed-upon codes of conduct covering everything from bedtime (The lights and candles should be put out at eight at night, and if any of the crew desire to drink after that hour they shall sit upon the open deck without lights) to the settling of disputes (None shall strike another on board the ship, but every man’s quarrel shall be ended on shore by sword or pistol).
You can draw up your own “pirate articles” for your family, club, or team at work. It sounds more fun than “rules” doesn’t it?
4. Know what motivates your crew. “Such a day, rum all out—Our company somewhat sober— A damned confusion amongst us! —Rogues a-plotting—Great talk of separation —So I looked sharp for a prize. Such a day took one—with a great deal of liquor on board—so kept the company hot, damned hot; then all things went well again.” So wrote none other than Edward Teach a.k.a. “Blackbeard” in his journal.
Blackbeard was a giant, ruthless man. But even this fearsome pirate captain (who was known to intimidate others by lighting gunpowder fuses in his beard) knew that he had to maintain morale. If you rely on a crew of your own, running a tight ship isn’t enough. Do you know what keeps them loyal and happy? Not knowing that can lead to a mutiny on any ship.
5. Hang around with like-minded shipmates. Life wasn’t much fun aboard a Royal Navy Man O War or merchant ship in the 1700’s. A captain’s authority was unquestioned, and the officers enforced the rules of the ship without mercy. Sailors could be whipped or keel-hauled for the slightest infraction.
Pirate ships were purposefully far different. Wary of the power of an unchecked boss to deliver misery, Pirates crews elected their captain and he was only vested with total authority during instances of battle. If the crews were unhappy with a captain, they could replace him with another of their number at any time by democratic vote.
Interestingly, long before affirmative action and EEOC regs, pirate ships were equal opportunity workplaces. Beneath the unfurled skull n’ crossbones one could find Europeans, West Africans, Carib Indians and Asians all as equals, united in their common pursuit of—as Roberts was fond of saying—”a merry life and a short one.” What mattered on a pirate ship was one’s ability to hoist a sail and wield a cutlass. Take a cue and try associating with other rogues not afraid of hard work and bucking the trend.
6. Stash some coins for a rainy day. Legend has it pirates buried their treasure, though historians debate the frequency of this practice. (Captain Kidd was the only pirate known to do this, and that loot has never been found.) Still, the wisdom of stashing cash for the future is a prudent one, as you always need to keep an eye on your hard-won plunder.
So whether you set up some automatic deductions from your paycheck and invest it, or get yourself a wooden chest and hide it, make it a point to have some loot to tide you over until the next prize is won.
7. Dress with a bit of flash. In Pirates of the Caribbean at World’s End, Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards portrays Jack Sparrow’s dad, “Captain Teague.” This was an homage to the notion that pirates were the rock stars of their day. In those times “sumptuary laws” prohibited those of the lower classes from wearing fine clothes and jewelry.
Pirates flouted these laws by dressing up in garish outfits and jewelry in the manner of the “free princes” they believed themselves to be. (Granted their hygiene probably had a lot to be desired but they made do with what they had.)
You don’t have to saunter into work in full Jack Sparrow regalia to show your pirate side. Why not add a splash of color with a new tie or scarf, or sport a skull ring, or accent that suit with some new crossbones cufflinks.
8. Make it happen. What if you really want to find wealth and freedom beyond your wildest dreams? What if you really want to be a pirate? I asked Richard Zacks, author of The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd and he offers the pirate recipe for success:
“A dash of insanity mixed with relentless perseverance, topped off with an ‘I’d-rather-die-than-fail’ mentality usually yields results…or death.”
Aye, are you ready to sign up?